Dead or alive, Saddam Hussein will go down in modern history as one of the people most responsible for creating the deepest scar in the world order since the Cold War. By chance or not, the scar practically overlaps the division that scars our own "Quartet" - the U.S. on one side, and the European Union, UN and Russia on the other. Israel, as usual, chose the American side in the Gulf crisis. Its ministers unanimously support the war and the town squares are empty of antiwar demonstrations. There's nothing left to do but wait quietly for a little bit of the juice from the fruits of good guy's victory over the bad guys.
Seemingly, at least, everything is very simple and nice. First, Israel displayed perfect loyalty to the U.S., which presumably will pay it back in economic and political coin. Second, Israel haters, led by France, have lined up with America's rivals, and Washington, presumably, will pay them back. The cold wind blowing from Iraq toward the four-sided forum will yank the road map out of the Quartet's hands and momentously return it to Washington. Third, President Bush has sent the UN into rehab, which is something that the disciples of Israel's "UN is irrelevant" camp always like to gloat over.
But the nervousness peeking out from the "briefings" at the Prime Minister's Office about the road map show that even in Sharon's closest circles, they understand that when all your eggs are in one basket, you'd best not shake it. Sharon knows the gamble on "the especially friendly relationship" with the American president has resulted in disappointment for the Israeli right, which opposed all the peace initiatives that "attacked Israel" in the last three decades - the Reagan Plan of 1982, the Madrid Conference of 1991, and the Clinton Framework of 2000. If the president is convinced that the Quartet's road map serves American interests (or his own), how will Sharon be able to transform him from lover into enemy, and sic the Jewish lobby on him? Either or - democracy for Iraqi citizens will be the only excuse remaining for Bush. At home and abroad, many will ask why the U.S. allows its friend, Israel, to deepen its occupation and mark it off with fences.
A few hours before the outbreak of the war, UN Middle East envoy Terje Larsen reported to the Security Council that food consumption in the territories has dropped by 30 percent, compared to 2000, and that 60 percent of the Palestinians now are living under the poverty line, on $2 a day or less. Larsen emphasized the U.S. has joined the three other members of the Quartet, which regarded the appointment of Abu Mazen as the Palestinian prime minister a window of opportunity, and that Washington had deigned to present the road map to the parties and call for its implementation.
Even if at the end of the day, Bush decides it's better to bury the road map in Sharon's sea of corrections than to anger Jewish voters and donors, after the war the world won't treat Sharon the same way as it did before the war.
The American approach to the Security Council gave European countries like France a precedent for conducting a separate Middle East policy and a motive for the U.S. to hit Israel through its pockets. Bush could veto an international conference proposed by Chirac, but Bush's huge debt to Tony Blair is already making it difficult for him to ignore London's demands that the Israel-Palestinian conflict get some of the determination Bush is demonstrating in Iraq.
Jerusalem should not derive satisfaction from the American decision to ignore the UN. Under the cover of the automatic American veto, Israel has held onto territory it does not own for the last 36 years. Either way, if the battle cheer of the Israeli right isn't exaggerated, it is certainly premature.
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